Honda CB 550F


Make Model

Honda CB 550F Super Sport




Air cooled, transverse four cylinder, four stroke, SOHC, 2 valves per cylinder.


Bore x Stroke 58.5 x 50.6 mm
Compression Ratio 9.0:1


4x 22mm Keihin carbs

Ignition  /  Starting

Battery, with points / Electric starter supported with

Max Power

50 hp @ 8000 rpm

Max Torque

4,4 kg/m @ 7.500rpm

Transmission  /  Drive

5 Speed  /  chain

Front Suspension

Telescopic fork

Rear Suspension

Swing arm

Front Brakes

Single 236mm disc 1 piston caliper

Rear Brakes


Front Tyre


Rear Tyre



 192 kg

Fuel Capacity 

16 liters       

Consumption  average

41 mp/g

Braking 60 - 0 / 100 - 0

- / 44.5 m

Standing ¼ Mile  

14.5 sec / 144.2 km/h

Top Speed

164 km/h

Testers: Peter Watson, Graham Sanderson

The Atlantic for five years except that in the States it was transformed into the CB550 in 1973 and, subsequently, the CB550F last year. So the latest derivative we've got over here is more than just an upstaged CB500. Having been though its transition period as the CB550 in the States, the bike is just about on the ball and it's been well worth the wait.

Honda now appear to be designing machines specifically for the European market rather than merely insulting European taste with that sit - up - and - beg riding position that the Yanks love so much. It's a trend we noticed with the CB400 first tested in these pages in July '75 and which became consolidated in the CB750F, a greatly improved version of four-piper CB750s.

Seating position on both the 400 and the new 750 was good and it's equally accommodating on the CB550. Footrests sprout just to the rear of the engine and the rider leans slightly forward on to the handlebars raised a couple of inches above the head-stock. The bars are wide enough to afford bags of control through the turns, yet they're sufficiently narrow to maintain the rider's body in aerodynamic' balance for those long motorway bashes.

I can almost hear the potential customer mulling over the comparisons between the 40 lb lighter and, at the time of writing, £166 cheaper CB400, and the heavier and £250 more expensive CB750, as well as pitching it alongside the GT550 Suzuki. Yet the CB550 is much more than just an in-bet weenie in the Honda range; more than merely a compromise between 750 cc beef and 400 cc cheap thrills. We believe the CB550 provides one of the finest balances between performance, economy and handling quality in today's motorcycling arena. That may sound like a tribute normally reserved for the two grand-plus machine, but we thoroughly enjoyed the CB550 and consider it to be one of the better bikes to emerge from Honda's design team in recent years.

At £975, the CB550 is cheap enough to fall within easy HP reach of most bikers and possesses performance that makes you wonder why you ever considered buying the

CB750. We dubbed the CB400 a Poor Boy's Musclebike; the CB550 is that and more. More weight, more muscle, more torque and more pure motorcycling enjoyment.

Thumbing the starter button on the right of the handlebar induces the crank to revolve and the Honda ticks over with the precision of a quartz wristwatch. Yet such is the efficiency of the fashionable four -into - one exhaust system that it creates a false impression that the 550's.engine is mechanically noisy.

Round town the Honda felt more like the 750 than its smaller 400 cc brother, yet it was maneuverable and the tractability of second and third gears provided the right combination of acceleration with minimal use of revs. However, continuous subdued start-stop riding showed up a couple of flat spots below 5,000 rpm and with an overly strong throttle return spring I occasionally grabbed more revs than was really necessary. Still, right down to walking pace the machine felt balanced. Even tall dwarves of 5 foot 6 inches can foot their way through the traffic with a seat height of 31 inches.

But it's out town where the fun really begins. Wind open the throttle to around 5,500 rpm and the Honda begins to come on strong. There's no power surge, just an enthusiastic urgency about the way the revs climb usefully to 8,500 rpm before power tails off. Revving to the 9,300 rpm red line has little effective value in terms of road speed and merely increases petrol consumption. All the time the exhaust remains quiet and the rider, in helmeted isolation, is barely aware of the high-pitched but heavily muffled scream that inoffensively finds an orchestrated passage through the system. There's just a faintly perceptible mechanical rustle from the motor to keep the rider company.

Performance is not excessive but at least it's all usable and it's available in quantities that will please all but the looniest speed freaks. The Honda nips up to well over 90 mph — VASCAR permitting — at any time of asking and keeps up 70 mph at a leisurely 6,000 rpm in top. Yet if you're anxious to find that extra 10 to 15 mph on top speed the throttle has to be screwed

viciously and fuel consumption rises in sympathy. When that's all in aid of knocking a couple of minutes off your ETA the strain seems to be an exercise in pointless-ness. Tramping hard along the M4 unmerci-lessly using revs, the Honda struggled to average 38 mpg. Even with more subdued and realistic riding, petrol consumption only staggered into the low forties. That's the price of performance, but proved quite acceptable in the Honda's case.

The frame is basically identical to that used on the CB500, although the front forks have come in for some internal redesigning and the rear suspension units have been uprated and more heftily sprung. The Honda's performance, sporty appearance and excellent seating position encourage spirited riding, but push the 550 to its limits and you'll discover that the handling isn't quite up to the standard it's led you to expect. Chasing hard into a bend, braking, changing down and peeling into the turn in one swift motion induces a tail-end wiggle which serves as a warning that the CB550 is not, after all, a GP racer. Brake and change down well before you're into the neck of the bend, accelerate right through it and the Honda drives round just dandy. It's just a question of tuning your own riding style and abilities to tit the feel, performance and handling of the 550. Once you've done that you'll discover how easy it is to drag the collector box across the blacktop on right-handers, contrasting with the much better ground clearance on the spartan but functionally attractive left side of the bike. Comments on roadholding have to be subjective in this instance since our test machine was shod with a pair of nonstandard Continentals which broke away on several occasions in the dry. Wet weather performance remained untried due to the total lack of rainfall during the test period.

The brakes have evidently been set up to suit the machine's bulk and potential performance. Grabbing a fistful of the 11 inch front disc from any speed left it fade- and grab-free, and the rear drum brake just helps keep things in a straight line when you begin to stand the 550 on its front wheel.

Exterior dimensions of the 550 motor are identical to those of the CB500 but internally there have been many modifications. The clutch and gearbox have come in for some particularly extensive revision. The engine was hogged out by 2.5 mm per bore raising the capacity to 544 cc. and max torque output moved 500 rpm down the scale to 8.500 rpm.

Numerous styling changes have given the CBS50 a fresh, polished image. Its reshaped petrol tank now holds 3.7 gals and the toolkit is housed on the underside of the seat. Out front there's a large twin-dial setup of speedometer and rev-counter, with an idiot light console neatly tailored to go in between them. The 550 shows its American connection only in the tiller cap, which in bath-plug style is chained to the inside of the tank, and in the flap which hides the whole caboodle.

We tried to find serious fault with the 550 and failed simply because it's a competently designed motorcycle. Okay, so maybe the seat is an ass-deadener after 100 miles, and the rider is always aware of a high frequency buzz too fine to be called vibration, but nevertheless noticeable. But apart from the bleeping turn indicators the CB550 is not plagued with gimmicks. The styling is clean, even subdued, available only in just blue or orange. No flashes, no stripes, no unnecessary fuss.

The CB550 is an enjoGraham Sandersonyable motorcycle to ride because it's so "together": each facet of its design complementing the next. In the same way that the RD400 is the optimal development of the road-going two-stroke, we reckon the CB550 enjoys similar status in the four-cylinder four-stroke market, at least in the sub-900 cc category.

Source Bike Magazine 1975


Honda CB550F, CB500T, Suzuki GT380, GT550, Yamaha RD400C, XS500C, and Ka­wasaki KH400 Triple comparison

Other than the predictable responses that always follow the publication of a Cycle Magazine street-bike comparison test ("You guys are full of it!"), the most persistent—and plaintive—comment is, "Do one on the Middleweights." So here one is—a Middleweight Comparison Test, including two entries from Honda (CB550F and CB500T), two from Suzuki (GT380 and GT550), two from Yamaha (RD400C and XS500C) and one from Ka­wasaki (KH400 Triple). The bikes we've selected for this comparison may or may not jibe with your idea of what constitutes a proper Middleweight, but we feel that the selection process was valid and re­sponsible. To fanciers of the Honda CJ360T, Honda CB360T, Kawasaki KZ400 and Yamaha XS360C, we say, too small, too econo-oriented. To those loyal to the Hercules Wankel 2000, the Benelli 500 Quattro and the Laverda 500 Twin, we say, too exotic.

At the center of our Comparison Test was a 1300-mile toot from our Westlake Village offices out across the desert, then Northwest following the Sierra mountains to San Jose, then down along the Pacific Ocean and home. The trip lasted for five

days, during which time each of our test­ers rode each bike five separate times, and had a chance to sample every bike in every kind of terrain. At the end of the ride, the testers were asked to fill out score-sheets. Categories in which the bikes

were evaluated were Overall Engine Per­formance, Overall Comfort, Fit and Feel, Overall Noise Level, Vibration Control, Suspension Compliance, Mountain Road Handling and In-Town Ease of Operation. Possible scores ranged from zero—unac­ceptable—to nine—outstanding. The final results in each category were determined by averaging the scores of all the testers; the overall rank order was determined by the category scores and by the staff's subjective opinions.

Accompanying those members of the staff still able to get around after the Great Dirt Donk Expedition were three outside experts: Bob Johnston, who had been with us on the Donk trip and the "Eight for the Open Road" comparison (August, 1975); Marty Dickerson, Bonneville record holder and motorcycle mechanics in­structor at the West Valley Occupational Center in Woodland Hills, California; and Bill Ocheltree, former Motorcyclist Maga­zine staffer and currently a freelancer. They were invited hopefully to offset the hell-raising tendencies of the staff; as it turned out they raised more hell than we did, even though all three of them are between 40 and 50 years old.
Capsule Summaries


• One-time progress is a one-time thing; if ever a mechanism bore testimony to that idea, it's the Honda CB500T. The bike came to these shores in the mid-Sixties as the second largest-displacement Jap­anese motorcycle (the 650cc Kawasaki was first) of all time, and was trick beyond belief. It was a vertical parallel twin four-stroke with double overhead cams, tor­sion-bar valve springs and the most com­plex cylinder head casting anybody had ever seen on a motorcycle. It was ugly; Honda fixed that in short order, and by the early Seventies the 450 was generally held to be superior in all regards: it was fast, handled well, was easy on maintenance, had a disc front brake and was a marvel of smoothness when matched against other bikes of the same general description (the Triumph 500 and 650 among others).

Had Honda clung to the 450 as we knew it then and simply dragged it forward year after year with no significant changes, chances are that, in the face of giant strides made by Honda's now-plentiful competitors, the bike would not have fared well. But it would have done better than the current 500T, because the old 450 was a better motorcycle.

The 500 is a cosmetic masterpiece; the T-bike is lovingly painted, plated, styled, trimmed and striped Its appearance is its message; once you plunk your buns on the saddle and fire up the engine, it's all downhill. The center console vibrates it­self into a blur; the footpegs and stands all stick out too far; the bike leaps ahead and falls back with a will of its own; the brakes on both ends need to be improved; the rubber-mounted handlebar does little to shield your arms and hands from the engine's incessant quaking and shaking.

Well, you're thinking, it's probably cheap. Wrong-o. It costs $1610, sug­gested retail, or $400 more than the RD-400C or the Kawasaki KH400. Well, maybe it's fast. Guess again. Does it get good mileage? Yes—just under 40 mpg over the duration of our comparison.

Only under the most carefully chosen set of circumstances could the 500T be presented as an admirable motorcycle; it does look good, probably won't break, and will be economical to operate and not especially fussy. But in this displacement range, you can do so much better—as our comparison will clearly show.


• A stunning blonde appeared on Cycle's June 1971 cover along with the first CB500 Four, and a bold description which read "The Honda Magic Lantern Lights Again." After electrifying the industry in 1969 with a 750 Four, Honda was back at it two years later, injecting a massive dose of technical class and good motorcycling into a rather ordinary collection of mid­sized street bikes. The miniaturized 750 offered smaller people with smaller bud­gets the same prestige, technology, re­liability, comfort and grand-prix exhaust note that the heavier, more expensive 750 had used to unseat the reigning kings of motorcycling. Reduced size gave the 500 an important advantage over bigger bikes—agility, nimbleness and better han­dling—and a strong appeal for those who could appreciate subleties.

The little Four was a brilliant motorcycle and a big seller. Within two years Honda updated it to performance levels reached by other brands reacting to the original CB500, and thus the 550 was born in late 1973. The extra 50cc brought the dis­placement up to Suzuki's 550, helped justify a price hike from $1500 to $1600 and ensured that several other costly im­provements would not go unnoticed. For 1975's model year the CB550 four-piper was joined by the bike in this test—a sportier-styled CB550F which featured a four-into-one exhaust, a new tank, center key location, different seat and the im­plication that Café styling and even higher pricing might be accompanied by more engine performance. It wasn't. The bike still has more horsepower than any other in the test, and engine performance equal to everything but the RD400C's accelera­tion and the GT-550's top speed.

As a five-year-old basic design, the 550 is mature by Honda standards, and that means there aren't any detail problems left. Its tiny features have come to be expected from the Japanese, and they're there in droves on the 550F. The bike's maturity also means you're stuck with its shortcomings, which are drive-train snatch and dragging chassis hardware in fast right-hand corners. The gearbox, still clunky and uncertain after five years, is another item you'll have to put up with.

Nothing else about the bike requires tolerance. Mostly the CB550F is delightful, but it comes at a price ($1825)—the high­est in the group by 8 percent. Neverthe­less it will still sell more units than any of the others because more dealers have it, because it's a four-stroke, and simply be­cause it's a Honda.


• The KH400 is the best of all Kawasaki three-cylinder two-strokes. To appreciate that, you have to understand where Ka­wasaki was coming from in 1968, and where they're coming from now. In the late Sixties it became evident that Ka­wasaki, which had always seen itself as a performance company, was prepared to take no prisoners in the drag-o-derby. The H-1 500 was a menacing little monster: quick, unstable, unpredictable and terrifyingly fast. The 750cc version debuted late in 1971, and was even better—or worse—than the 500 because it was faster. But the 350cc triple, presented in early 1972, was somewhat tame. It was quick and quirky, in that fine Kawasaki tradition, but it showed the first signs of the company's willingness, having be­come "established," to view restraint as a not altogether unacceptable quality. Shortly thereafter Kawasaki introduced the Z-1— that factory's first, quality, non-disposable motorcycle—and their bikes have been getting more attractive ever since. The bike in question here, the KH400, is significantly different from its predecessor and continues Kawasaki's quest for more-decent and less-flashy equipment.

It has been freshened-up in many areas for 1976. Its air inlet system is new, its chassis is more liberally gusseted, its muffler has been re-engineered for better sound control, gearing has been stretched to help mileage and reduce cruising engine speed, and the KH has been fitted with a CDI ignition system to prolong plug life.

But even with its little package of developments and refinements, the KH re­tains the kind of character that had it highly-placed in several of the perfor­mance-intensive test categories, and ranked down near to the bottom in the categories that emphasized comfort. It's light (the lightest in the test at 378 pounds with a full tank), inexpensive ($1239 suggested retail) and has the kind of power-to-weight ratio (12 Ibs/hp) that guaran­tees invigorating acceleration. It is also, in keeping with the larger-displacement Kawatriples that preceded it, a bit harsh in terms of finish, styling and myriad details which other factories handle more deli­cately. But crude or no, the KH is a genuinely fun motorcycle to be around— as long as you're tuned into good han­dling and hot engines.


• The Suzuki GT380 Sebring was the first sub-400cc street bike to break away from the 350cc class rating. It was also the first mid-displacement multi-cylinder roadster from Suzuki. In the wake of the perfor­mance bikes of the early Seventies, the Sebring navigated in a very different direc­tion, and moved toward serene perfor­mance and exceptional comfort.

In designing the GT380, Suzuki's en­gineers mixed fresh concepts with proven parts. The bore and stroke of the Sebring are the same as Suzuki's 250cc street twin. By adding one cylinder the displace­ment was bumped up to 371 cc. Mild port timing, low compression and small car­buretors level out the 380's power and separate it from pipey, performance-type two-stroke engines.

The six-speed gearbox is also of the same design as the GT250 twin's. Gear spans are progressively tightened up in the higher cogs and there's nothing un­usual about that, but it does allow a rider to find a gear in which the GT380 is absolutely smooth on the highway.

For all intents and purposes the engine has remained unchanged since its release in 1972. The Ram Air System has proved efficient in increasing engine heat dissipa­tion, and more importantly, reducing oper­ating noise. The low compression motor runs trouble-free on regular grade gas­olines. Suzuki's intricate oil injection sys­tem lubricates the pistons and crankshaft bearings individually and includes a re­cycling arrangement which removes fuel mixture accumulation from the crankcase areas and feeds it directly into the com­bustion chambers.

In 1974 a number of major changes were made to the chassis, carburetor intake, exhaust and instrumentation. The chassis was completely redesigned to im­prove handling and ground clearance. Better fork internals, shock dampers and springs delivered a better ride. New instru­ments were joined by the digital gear read­out and larger warning lights.

Bell-crank operated carburetors re­placed the cable-actuated mixers and the mufflers were moved up and in for addi­tional ground clearance. Modifications to the intake system reduced objectionable in­duction drone and relocated footpegs and controls increased comfort.

Suzuki built the Sebring with a front drum brake only in its first year, moving to a disc in 1973. Rubber engine mounting is unchanged, having proven effective in eliminating vibration. The conventional tri­ple-point ignition system is driven from an independent idler gear to prevent timing fluctuation associated with crankshaft flexing.

Initial saddle and gas tank designs have gone without alterations. Minor design improvement changes have been made to the GT380's through its five model series, but few are visible. Suzuki believes in improving the breed from the inside out, not the outside in. The GT380 has suc­cessfully survived four tough years, and Suzuki appears willing to retain the Sebring indefinitely.


• There is little new and nothing uncon­ventional about the '76 Suzuki GT550

Indy. It is a four-year old motorcycle that was designed to ride the waves of prog­ress, survive as a seasoned veteran and never get out of date. Paint scheme alone identifies the 1976 Indy as new.

Suzuki's innovative design of the Ram Air cylinder head shroud system has en­dured, unchanged, since the beginning. Ahead of its time in 1972, the RAS provides dual benefits. The scoop in­creases air-flow activity over the fins, and also functions as an excellent sound-deadener to minimize the amount of top-end piston noise.

There have been no performance changes made to the cylinders or pistons since the Indy's inception. The low-com­pression two-stroke triple was designed for durability and runs as happily on low-or no-lead fuels as it does on premium. Unchanged since the GT550's original design is its exceptionally effective rubber mounting system.

Only one chassis change has been made to the GT550 through the five-model series. In 1974 a number of major up-dates were built into the Indy—mostly to subdue noise and improve handling. The carburetion, intake and exhaust sys­tems were modified to reduce operating noise levels. The exhaust pipes were tucked up closer to the frame, the side stand and center stand were moved in and the foot pegs relocated to give the Suzuki additional lean angle clearance. The frame changes amounted to nothing more than relocating foot controls and brackets to which they attached.

New instruments were fitted to the Indy in 1974 and included Suzuki's popular digital gear read-out and bigger idiot lights. The five-speed gearbox is identical to the transmission in the big 750cc Suzuki LeMans. The 550's clutch and primary drive are equally robust.

Suzuki went to the disc front binder in 1973. The rear drum brake and wheel have remained unchanged, as have the tire sizes.

Electric starting was in the first 550, and has remained without alteration. Most of the electrical components are the same as those used in the 750s. The plush saddle

and four gallon gas tank have been changed in very minor ways—a new piece of vinyl here and a fresh paint stripe there. Minute internal modifications appear in the parts books of each new Indy, but the motorcycle remains pleasantly the same. Unlike most re-vamped new models the GT550 has lost seven pounds since 1974 and the price has escalated only moder­ately. As Suzuki's most successful road bike, the GT550's reputation for depend­ability is a matter of record.

Source Cycle World